About a year ago I was given the opportunity to regularly review books for Youthworker Journal. Its not a bad side gig... I get paid to read (which I enjoy doing) and always get to keep the stuff they send me. I usually get things before they come out, allowing me to create a review without anyone else's bias as influence.
This is quite the challenge, though, since it's always difficult to give an honest synopsis of a book with respect to all the time the author has put into creating it. In my opinion, anyone who has kept their rear end in a chair that long deserves to be celebrated (even if it's for that alone). And yet I am required and compelled to give an honest critique for the sake of the consumer.
So in case you're considering something new to read, here are a few I've read recently.
Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers To Timely Questions
By Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Crossways Books, 2008, 256 pp, $19.99
Mark Driscoll is known in some evangelical circles for his reactive statements that attempt to say something provocative. Perhaps that controversial aggressiveness could inspire both groupies and critics to pick up his first book, Vintage Jesus. Written with complementary insights from mentor Gerry Breshears, this book aims to soundly articulate a specific theology about Jesus and generate “many profitable discussions.”
Overall, Driscoll tamely stays after his task of explaining classic Christian theology through cultural examples and personal analogies. He occasionally works against himself, though, distracting fans and foes alike through unnecessary negativity (disguised as humor) and jabs against other Christians. Driscoll attempts to excuse this by leaguing himself in with Jesus whose humor he believes “was often biting and harsh,” adding that “the best response [to anyone self-righteous] is to just make fun of them.” Thankfully, Breshears’ Q&A sections at the end of each chapter insightfully glue everything back together.
The theological meat is chewy, and yet it often seems like something you’ve read elsewhere. Perhaps that’s Driscoll’s point, but the project respectively comes across as unoriginal. In many ways Vintage Jesus feels blurred by a deeper objective to elevate Driscoll as an emerging theologian. This makes it hard to not read into everything he writes, including the way the book formally belittles alterative viewpoints and structurally reads like a retort to Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. The author’s admirers will savor these strategic pokes, while average readers will have to read around them in search of something more meaningful.
Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members Of Your Church
By Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson
Regal Books, 2007, 176 pp, $12.99
Should every visitor who walks into your gatherings become a member of your church? If you believe so, you’ll enjoy this practical resource by Nelson Searcy. If you think otherwise, though, you’ll likely raise your eyebrows as you read.
Searcy anticipates critics by conceding “the church is not a business,” yet in the same sentence adds “[but] we would be smart to take some cues from the consumer-conscious service world.” These nods are placed throughout the book, but they seem like token acknowledgements to contrary opinions. The Bible is only occasionally tagged, even within a chapter entitled “biblical hospitality.” Nonetheless, this is a solid “nuts and bolts” resource for congregations and ministries alike.
So is this a negative or a positive review? That depends on whatever thoughts and baggage you carry about churches using marketing principles to pursue holy goals. The material does attempt to endorse itself through strategically laid testimonials, making Searcy seem like a self-promoter out to peddle his resources. Behind it all, though, his heart beats with an obvious conviction that the “customer” needs the “product” he’s selling – Jesus Christ.
Whatever you believe about that will cause you to either pick up a stone… or this book.
The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus In A World Full Of Plastic Promises
By Mark Sayers
Book: Thomas Nelson, 2008, 224 pp, $14.99
DVD: Thomas Nelson, 2008, 80 minutes, $39.99
Australian theologian and speaker Mark Sayers comes on strong about the effects of Western consumerism in his book and DVD "The Trouble With Paris." Citing the conscious and unconscious shifts popular culture has on everyone, Sayers ponders (with specific emphasis to young adults) how Christians can develop a meaningful and relevant faith in such times.
Both mediums offer the same content in different forms, with the DVD formatted for a four-week interactive group study and the book intended as a personal read. The majority of the material is spent intelligently deconstructing the way things are, while the last section offers some tangible suggestions for living differently. By the time the reader gets to this portion they are likely ready for a solution, and the author uses much Scripture to make his points.
Thankfully, the alternative Sayers offers is more than another “hyperreality” promise of prosperity. While he rightly states that the way of life Jesus offers “leads to satisfaction, not just more wanting,” he also adds that “we are not immune from bad things happening” and must still embrace a “shalom vision” in such times. Given the raw journey many are on with God, this tension of perspective is refreshing.
Outflow: Outward-Focused Living In A Self-Focused World
by Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping
Group Publishing, 2007, 236 pp., $14.99
Steve Sjogren has a gift for keeping ministry simple-yet-powerful. Combining efforts with Dave Ping, the duo have put together “Outflow” - a highly practical resource about how one life can impact everyone. Through sound theory and biblical foundation, the book provides the reader with insights and ideas that can be easily integrated into any lifestyle.
The running metaphor of the book is a four-tiered fountain, painting an Acts 1:8 picture of how the Holy Spirit can nourish layer after layer of the lives that surround our own. Although at times the book feels like a remix of The Purpose Driven Life, the authors do offer an inventive spin through stories, introspection, Scripture, and strategy. In doing so this feels less about a program and more about transformation.
Whether used as a personal study or as a way to transform an entire group, Outflow promises a refreshing approach that just might (super)naturally change the world.